Archives for posts with tag: singing

This is a re-post from 9/20/13, which I wrote (and sang) as a gift for my mom’s birthday. Mom has been fretting about me a bit because I’ve been writing about worry and stress. She is asking me what she can do to help. I am reposting this 1) to remind her that I know that I am resilient even if my life is complicated at this time and 2) to remind her that she has already and continues to do so much for me, just by being herself.

 

Martha MacKenzie is my wonderful mom. And today is her birthday. In addition to being a mother of six and a wife for nearly 59 years, my mom is a singer. She has a glorious voice. Mom has almost no formal vocal training but comes from a family of musicians, especially singers. Her singing style can best be described as sacred classical. In other words, she is a church singer. Mom has been singing in church choir since she was six years old. Her oldest sister, Gloria, sang for KIRO radio’s Uncle Frank’s Kiddie’s Hour for a number of years, until she was about 12. Mom and her middle sister auditioned for and were accepted into the children’s choir for an opera production in Seattle, starring Metropolitan Opera’s Rise Stevens. Mom still remembers what she was asked to sing for the audition.

Mom  was SMART and graduated from high school at age 16, after which she took a music performance class, along with her older sister, Barbara at Seattle University. We have recordings from those times of my mom’s clear soprano and my aunt’s animated mezzo-soprano singing songs from 1950’s musicals. Shortly after, Barbara moved to New York City to try to make it on Broadway. She was an amazing performer but like many talented performers did not make it in the Big Apple. During the Koren war, Mom was in a singing trio with Barbara and their cousin, Betty. They wore glamorous dresses and pulled off those unbelievably dark lip stick shades that were popular in the early 50’s, while performing for the USO.

Mom continued to sing in church choirs all of this time through marriage, rearing six children, and throughout my father’s post-retirement years. She is a member of the St. James’ Cathedral Choir in Seattle. It is a wonderful choir, which has toured Europe singing at noted cathedrals such as Notre Dame in France. They also sang at the Vatican and had an audience with Pope Benedict. My mom likes to tell us how she was trying to hike up the waistband of her support hose just as Pope Benedict walked by.

Wow, Elizabeth your mom sounds great. And you’ve talked about being a musician in your youth. You must have sung. You must have sung for your mother.

Well, it’s complicated. I was in band but did belong to the choir during 7th grade. Our claim to fame was performing, “The Sound of Music” during a middle school JAZZ competition. And no, it wasn’t a jazzy rendition of the song. I don’t know what that teacher was thinking. Then I stopped singing except for a few months during college when my mom convinced me to come to St. James to rehearse for a special community choir mass. (Regular choir members must audition. Soloists are professional opera singers.) I remember singing “A Mighty Fortress” and learning a piece based on Psalm 84 (“Yeah the sparrow hath found a house…”). I learned how to articulate words differently for singing than for speaking. It was a lot of work but was really fun.

So I did a little singing in groups. But NEVER alone in front of people. (Okay, one time five years ago I sang “Goody Goody” for my neighbors Jim and Deana. I’m not sure why I did it.) Not even for my mom except for a few bars of something and even then that was when I was much older, like 35 years old. People, singing in front of people is even more mortifying to me than wearing a swim suit in public! Zoe is the only one I have ever sung to and I sang to her a lot when she was little. I would sing with her now except that she only likes to sing alone. (Annoying teen.)

My mom used to sneak next to the bathroom door to try to hear me sing in the shower. (Watch the comments section, she will deny it!) If we were in church together and standing next to each other, she would sing really quietly so that she could listen to ME. I knew that it was really important to my mom to hear me sing but it was so hard for me to do this and I’m not sure why. She wanted to know if I had “a voice”. I performed frequently as a flutist, despite my nerves, and even performed in two master classes. (A master class is when some well-known musician comes to town and students are selected to get a lesson by that person in front of an audience of a bunch of students and music teachers. I did it twice as a college student.)

My singing anxiety does not just apply to my mom. Objectively, I have a pleasant, untrained alto voice with limited range. I think I could have been an excellent singer if I had trained to do so as I had with the flute. Perhaps the difficulties started as a combination of my perfectionism and the fact that my mom’s eagerness stressed me out a bit. And then as irrational anxieties do, it gathered its own steam from my continued avoidance, and took on a life of its own.

Last July, I wrote about the co-existence of grief and joy as being part of resilience in the post, How Can I Keep from Singing? The post title is the name of one of my favorite Christian hymns. I included the lyrics in the post followed by a little message to my mom asking her to record the hymn so I could post it on this blog. She offered me the deal that she would record it if I sang WITH her. I replied to her comments with a “definite maybe” type reply. I don’t think she ever saw that reply because she hasn’t mentioned the topic even once in the last almost two months. Or perhaps she has been playing it REALLY COOL.

I subsequently decided that I wanted to record the song both for my mom and for myself, to face my fear of public singing. Unlike going on loop de loop roller coasters, I actually enjoy singing quite a bit. It’s the only kind of music I still make. My original vision was for my mom, Zoe, and I to sing one verse apiece and the last verse together. However, Zoe was not at all interested in participating at the time I asked. My mom kept going camping with my dad all summer. I ended up not talking to her about it.

I decided to go solo and a cappella. Actually, a cappella is my favorite for this hymn. Plus, I don’t play piano and ukulele accompaniment by Zoe would probably not sound right.To me, the hymn sounds a little Irish. However, it is American and although there is a somewhat complicated history behind it, the authorship for the music is attributed to a Baptist minister, Robert Wadsworth Lowry. There are a number of different versions of the lyrics. I chose the one that was closest to the one I’ve sung in church many times as a member of the congregation.

I started practicing the song on and off about three weeks ago. Then I had to figure out how to audio record myself. (No way would I have a videotape made. This audio recording is a big enough step as it is.) I finally decided, as time was passing quickly, that I just needed to get it done. So I downloaded a free recording app onto my smartphone and started recording myself. I spent enough time on it to give myself a few tries but not so many as to activate my perfectionism.

Happy Birthday, Mom! Here is a song for you. I am posting it on my blog as my kind of “performance” so you can have a cyber stage mother experience.

How Can I Keep from Singing?

My life goes on in endless song
above earth’s lamentations,
I hear the real, though far-off hymn
that hails a new creation.

Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear it’s music ringing,
It sounds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?

Oh though the tempest loudly roars,
I hear the truth, it liveth.
Oh though the darkness ’round me close,
songs in the night it giveth.

No storm can shake my inmost calm,
while to that rock I’m clinging.
Since love is lord of heaven and earth
how can I keep from singing?

When tyrants tremble sick with fear
and hear their death knell ringing,
when friends rejoice both far and near
how can I keep from singing?

No storm can shake my inmost calm,
while to that rock I’m clinging.
Since love is lord of heaven and earth
how can I keep from singing?

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